Simon Rodgers may be young but he’s already achieved a lot in the past few years; not only is he a Category Manager in Procurement at Aviva, but he has been campaigning for LGBT equality and human rights in the UK and worldwide since 2007, is a founding member of Aviva Pride (the Aviva Employee Network Group), been involved in local politics and fundraised for numerous charities, to name but a few of his accomplishments.
Recently, Simon attended the One Young World Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he gave a rousing speech in front of 1,300 people from 180 countries about key issues affecting the world. Focusing on LGBT equality and human rights, his session was a huge success. He joined other big-name personalities, including Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof, Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) and Jamie Oliver.
We managed to get an interview with Simon to talk about his work as a campaigner of LGBT rights and equality and ask for his thoughts on some recent news topics regarding human rights, homophobic abuse and bullying, as well as what he thinks about Gay Homestays as a company.
GH: When did you start getting into LGBT rights and was there a specific reason for doing so?
SR: I haven’t been involved in LGBT equality for very long actually. I only became involved in 2007 when I helped found the Aviva LGBT Employee Network Group, which is now called Aviva Pride. But it wasn’t until later that year when I went to my first Stonewall Workplace Conference, which really opened my eyes and made me want to do more.
GH: What is the most shocking case regarding homophobia or anything else that you have heard or come across whilst working as an activist?
SR: That’s a tough question because there have been so many over the years that have touched me or shocked me and come from all over the world, but closer to home, I have worked with the Albert Kennedy Trust for a number of years now. I’ve heard many stories from young people who are disowned and kicked out of home by their own parents just for being gay, which really upsets me… I can’t believe anyone could do that to their own child!
Others would have to be when I was at the One Young World Summit where one delegate wrote a note which was read out in the Q&A session after my speech, saying that he couldn’t speak himself because he feared what might happen when he returned to his home country.
The new “kill the gays” bill which may be passed in Uganda really scares me It really saddens me because there seemed to be a glimmer of hope earlier in the year when they had their first Pride march over there, but now there is this issue, which I’m shocked by.
GH: In your Gay Star News article you mentioned a man who said he was no longer homophobic after hearing your speech. Apart from this, what other instances can you recall that was just as heartwarming?
SR: Again, there have been quite a few, but the one that really sticks in my mind was going back to my old secondary school in York, which I hadn’t been back to in over ten years. My old teacher invited me to go back and talk about LGBT issues and homophobia. I was a little anxious about doing so to be honest, because I was bullied there for being gay, however I also felt it would be important to share my experience. I was not expecting such a positive reaction from my speech; many pupils came up to me or contacted me afterwards – and a lot of them were straight young men – and told me how inspirational my talk had been. This really surprised me and touched my heart, making me think maybe I can make a difference if so many young people are interested in what I have to say.
GH: We recently interviewed Michael Black, one half of the gay couple who were turned away from a B&B for being gay. What are your general thoughts on this and the controversial issue of mixing religious and personal beliefs with business?
SR: This is certainly a controversial issue as I always think it’s a contentious one when it comes to religion and sexuality. The most basic point for me is that I think it is a basic human right that everyone should be treated and, in the case of businesses, served equally, no matter who they are and somebody’s sexuality, gender, race or anything else should not come into it.
GH: We also ran a recent opinion piece about homophobic abuse that took place on a train where the man was only cautioned by the police, and not punished further. Do you think that this was fair, especially compared to those who have been arrested and jailed for racial abuse in public before?
SR: Well first of all, I think his comments were disgusting and I was really shocked at some of things that were said; I don’t believe anyone should be spoken to like that. As regards to his punishment, I’ve not been close enough to the case to understand the full details, but I think the fact that police intervened showed that they acknowledged that a crime was committed. This story showed the power of social media and how strongly people feel about this since the response was huge, but it also shows how much work still needs to be done when it comes to LGBT equality. I do believe that sometimes we do actually need to see these sort of things so we know about it and it highlights that people should report homophobic crimes more often.
GH: For National Coming Out Day we compiled a list of our favourite pro-LGBT songs and ones that do or could relate to coming out. What would be at the top of your list?
SR: Another tough question with a lot of songs to choose from but I would say Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”. It is a beautiful song, and I remember it bringing tears to my eyes at the Manchester Pride Candlelit Vigil this year. After a hard weekend of volunteering at the Pride event, that moment closed the event and the weekend perfectly for me. I think its particularly relevant because of the work Cyndi Lauper is doing in the US, recently launching the Forty to None Project, to address the inordinately high rate of homelessness among LGBT youth.
And although it is not directly related to anything LGBT, I feel like I can definitely relate to “Hall of Fame” by The Script and will.i.am because it’s about achieving one’s place in a “hall of fame” and making a difference or inspiring others so people know you for doing or achieving something; this is related to my purpose and what I do and what I’m all about, plus it’s a very universal song.
GH: We at Gay Homestays are passionate about providing friendly, safe and affordable accommodation to LGBT travellers who want to stay with LGBT hosts. As a worldly traveller yourself, what do you think about this and what we do as a company?
SR: I was actually really intrigued by the company and its concept, and yes, as someone who travels a lot I was definitely interested in it. Most of the time I am travelling on business so I do stay in hotels a lot of the time, just because it’s easier to relax and have my own space, although if I travelled more for pleasure I can understand why many people would like this, as hotels are impersonal. I you stay with a host in their home you can learn more about the place you’re in and meet new people. I think staying with LGBT people is a good idea as well, as you already have one thing in common with them, whereas if you booked a hotel or just any old B&B, you really have no idea who the owners or staff are or what they’re like at all. So in short, I think it’s an exciting organisation and I’ll be interested in seeing how things go for you in the future.